One of the more cautionary stats for good teams, pretty much across all sports, is an impressive record in close games. While that suggests lots of potential good things – the ability to close out victories, an overall “clutchness” of key performers, savvy late-game strategizing – it also can indicate a foundation of sand.
As in, it’s a lot more likely to have close games flip the other way, at the slightest provocation, if all those variables don’t line up just so.
The good news, conversely, would seem to be a likelihood that a poor record in close games could go the other way on a moment’s notice too. A few more free throws here, a little more calm there and, voila!, all is well again.
The Lakers and their fans still might have reasons for hope, if they can get past the Hack-a-Dwight (Howard) failures. Yes, they’re down right now. But they’re down by slim margins in situations in which they historically used to be up. L.A.’s record in games decided by three points or fewer is an NBA-worst 0-3. Its mark in games with margins up to 10: 1-11. That, too, puts them at the league bottom.
Small margins, yes, but no small thing. According to ESPN Stats, the Lakers had the NBA’s best record from 2007-08 through last season in games of 10 or less: 149-74, a winning percentage of .668. Their mark in those decided by three points or fewer was a solid 37-28, .569. Twice they led the league in winning nail-biters, with 11 in 2009-10 and 10 last season.
At 9-11, you’d expect the Lakers to have some other ugly numbers and they do. They’re 4-7 against foes that are .500 or better. They are the worst in turnovers (16.5 per game). They are bottom 10 in assists (20.8 per game) and 20th in defensive field-goal percentage (43.8). But not closing out close games, whether it’s due to bricked free throws late or Steve Nash‘s unavailability to impose order in crucial possessions down the stretch.
Here at HTB we expect this to change. Then again, we didn’t expect six weeks into the season that Bernie Bickerstaff (4-1) would be the most successful of the Lakers’ three head coaches.